November 3rd is National Sandwich Day and to celebrate with the rest of the country’s sandwich lovers, you should plan your deliciousness-between-two-slices-of-bread accordingly. Regionally speaking, New Yorkers have their pastrami on rye. Philadelphians will be drooling over Philly cheesesteaks, and po’ boys will be flying off diner counters like hotcakes down in New Orleans. In Springfield, Illinois, however, the horseshoe is the only way to celebrate National Sandwich Day.
In 1928, the first horseshoe sandwich was served at Springfield’s Leland Hotel. The sandwich initially featured a thin slice of ham that was cut from a bone-in ham in the shape of a horseshoe. The hotel served its open-faced sandwich on a metal plate it called an “anvil” and topped it with potato wedges to represent the horseshoe nails and a Welsh rarebit cheese sauce made from white sharp cheddar. If you’re celebrating National Sandwich Day at home, you may want to opt for this original version.
But who actually invented this cheesy goodness? Many sources say that ‘Chef” Steve Tomko invented the horseshoe sandwich, but local foodies in the know decry Tomko’s claim. In 1928, Tomko was a dishwasher at the celebrated Springfield hotel—not a chef. The real inventor of the horseshoe appears to be Leland Hotel Chef Joe Schweska. After leaving the hotel, he brought his horseshoe with him to the Red Coach Inn. From there, the horseshoe’s popularity began to spread throughout the city.
However, it didn’t take long before local chefs replaced the slice of ham with hamburger patties. A traditional horseshoe today will feature two hamburger patties, two slices of Texas toast (toasted to perfection), white cheese sauce, and french fries. The sandwich is still served open face and definitely requires a knife and fork–unless you don’t mind messy eating! Fried ham is often offered if you prefer pork to beef.
According to Springfield horseshoe connoisseurs (thanks Olson Family), the secret to the best horseshoes is the cheese sauce. Sauces vary by chef. Some restaurants feature a beer cheese sauce. Traditionalists prefer a white cheese sauce that is made using both mild and sharp cheddar cheeses along with light cream or half-and-half, according to the Honest to Goodness: Honestly Good Food from Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown.
The horseshoe serves a mighty appetite and, as you can see from the ingredients, is not likely to be on a heart-healthy diet. The cheese-drenched fries, juicy hamburger patties, and thick-sliced toast pack a wallop of calories. Fortunately, if you are concerned about diet, there is the pony shoe for less-hearty appetites. The pony shoe features just one beef patty and one slice of toast.
The horseshoe is decidedly a Springfield favorite, but the sandwich has made its way to other Central Illinois towns like Peoria, too. Springfield, however, is ground zero for the horseshoe and it now features a myriad of variations on the traditional sandwich. Popular variations include bacon and tomato horseshoes, chicken horseshoes, roast beef horseshoes, and even pastrami horseshoes.
If you’re in Springfield and can’t wait to try one for lunch or dinner, head to D&J Cafe for its delectable breakfast horseshoe that includes both gravy and cheese sauce and is topped by hash browns instead of fries. You can even find horseshoe pizza at the Corner Pub & Grill served with your choice of regular fries or waffle fries.
So, where can you get the best horseshoes in Springfield? As you can imagine, that’s a matter of serious debate–and the choice often comes down to the cheese sauce. The consensus, nevertheless, is that Springfield’s best horseshoes can be found at Ritz’s Lil’ Fryer , D’Arcy’s Pint , and Dublin Pub . If you visit these locations, bring your appetite. You won’t be disappointed.